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Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

Anne of the Thousand Days
Dragon Productions Theatre Company
Review by Eddie Reynolds | Season Schedule


Photo: April Culver and Ivette Duncan
Photo by Lance Huntley
Prolific American playwright and screenwriter Maxwell Anderson often looked to English history, particularly the Tudors, for inspiration. Included among his trove is an ambitious 1948 historical drama in blank verse that dares to condense nine tumultuous years of Henry VIII's reign that overlaps his marriages to his first and third wives—Catherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour—and includes the years of courting, the full reign, and the beheading of his second wife, Anne Boleyn. To produce Anne of the Thousand Days on the stage is a huge undertaking, given the breadth of events and the number of players with names familiar both to history and to Shakespeare buffs. Dragon Productions has taken up the challenge, presenting on its intimate stage with a cast of eight this sweeping drama involving twenty named characters and a number of other servants and singers. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons that range from casting to directing to performances to creative treatment, the daring undertaking is not successful.

Maxwell Anderson begins his recounting as Queen Anne sits alone in the Tower of London debating with herself if Henry actually could order her death and would she kill him if given the chance. Ivette Deltoro depicts the wrongly condemned Anne and in that role acts as one of the two narrators of the play. While not totally convincing in her opening scenes, her Anne becomes the production's highpoint once the action flashes back to the point when Henry decides he wants to abandon his affair with her older sister Mary and, instead, focus his latest conquest on a girl who has no interest in him at all, having already betrothed herself to Percy of Northumberland. In her rejections of Henry's approaches, in her eventual coy playing with his affections without yet saying she loves him, and in her later ascension to become his queen and a sometimes heartless mover and shaker of lives and destinies, actress Ivette Deltoro often shows much flare and flame, inner strength and outer defiance, and an ability to tease and torment purposively her Henry while also being testy and treacherous to those she opposes or who oppose her.

Occasionally acting as narrator and bookending as the other key character of the evening is of course Henry himself. For a host of reasons, Peter Ray Juarez never convinces us that he is actually King Henry VIII. Some of the lacking must be laid at the feet of director Melinda Marks, who seemingly instructed or allowed Juarez to play the part of a thirty-five-year-old British monarch as if he were barely twenty and residing somewhere in the mid-to-south United States (given his near-Southern drawl). There is not a hint of British in this Henry. There is also little that is royal or commanding in his demeanor or stance. Emotions are expressed with hands on head and sobs that sound more like muffled laughter. Lines are often delivered as if being read for the first time or as a perfunctory obligation. These issues could have been prevented through better guidance.

Often it is exciting to experience a production where actors play multiple parts. Other than the above two principals, members of this cast take on from two to five roles each. The result is mixed at best. Sometimes, the instantaneous switches are almost comical; at other times, they are confusing. Some players shout their parts as if in an outdoor stage; others can barely be understood.

Also an issue is the five female actors often taking on male roles, which is often common on today's stages and usually works quite well. In this case, however, the results lean toward not working time and again. Players are just not credible in stance, expression or voice as the female actors play without needed affect important roles like Norfolk, Anne's father, and Cromwell.

The one big exception is when Helena G. Clarkson portrays (among other roles) Cardinal Wolsey. She delivers the plotting, money-hungry cardinal with a deep, resounding voice and smug facial expressions that say paragraphs in their visual meanings.

This grand, courtly drama is presented on a stage blank of any furnishings save chairs, stools or table that characters (often in role) must bring in and out as the play's many scenes change—often with some awkwardness. A huge projection screen offers the opportunity to establish scenes but is used only a few times for faint and ineffective projections of a singular figure. At other times, the screen becomes the arena for background shadow play that, again, does not work that well and often distracts.

To listing more specifics of why this production is not one I can recommend does not make sense. The production the afternoon I attended started fifteen minutes late and ran over three hours, with one intermission. As one might imagine, a sizeable portion of the audience exited during the intermission and did not return. I have had many exceptional theatrical experiences at Dragon; this was just not one of them.

Anne of the Thousand Days runs through November 24, 2019, at Dragon Productions Theatre Company, 2120 Broadway Street, Redwood City CA. For tickets and information, visit dragonproductions.net.


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